I’m writing to you today with an invitation to rest. You may be thinking, “Ha! There’s no way! I have too much to do, too much to take care of.” Trust me, I get it.
I’m not just talking about rest that looks like laying down or taking a nap. I’m talking about the health of your autonomic nervous system, which regulates bodily processes. It has two divisions: the sympathetic and parasympathetic.
The sympathetic division prepares your body for stressful or emergency situations - often referred to as “fight or flight”. If you’ve ever noticed yourself holding your breath, your heart rate increasing, your palms sweating - you’re probably in a stress response. Less urgent or necessary processes slow down like digestion. Adrenaline is released to prepare you for a potential threat.
The parasympathetic division oversees body functions in ordinary situations. Also know as “rest and digest”, you may notice that your heart rate slows, your blood pressure decreases, and waste is eliminated.
Our bodies are pretty smart, keeping our hearts beating and lungs breathing without us having to consciously think about it! Sadly, we live in a high stress culture and a lot of our nervous system function is based on our perception of our surroundings. Simple things can trigger our fight or flight response. Someone cuts you off at a traffic light, your bank account balance isn’t what you expected, your partner gets mad at you, your child throws a fit in the grocery store… Any of these everyday situations can feel like life or death situations.
If you live with chronic illness or chronic pain, your nervous system may be particularly sensitive. Stress, anxiety, pain, physical discomfort can all prevent your body from a fully restful state - the rest I’m inviting you to pay attention to today.
There are many techniques we can use to shift from fight or flight to rest and digest. Cultivating your self awareness - checking in regularly to notice if you’re feeling stressed - is a great place to start. Staying hydrated, mindful breathing exercises, eating fresh Whole Foods, and getting enough sleep are some basic practices to support your nervous system health. My favorite nervous system educator is Irene Lyon. She has a lot of great free resources on her website. I encourage you to click here and take a look around.
Check in with your body now. If you notice tension, tightness, or feel on edge, take a few deep breaths into your belly and check out Irene’s work!